Over the weekend, I participated in my third triathlon. For months, I’ve been swimming, biking and running all over my town in preparation for the big day. Read: trying not to drown, nearly getting run off roads, and blistering my feet something fierce all for the privilege of paying to spend 2 hours physically challenging myself. Going into Saturday’s race, I felt prepared and ready, which, I’ve come to learn, is never a good sign.
I’m happy to report that I managed to navigate the goose poop, plant life and warm pockets of swimmer urine without having to hold onto a rescue kayak (remember last year?). And, while I still looked like Swamp Thing getting out of the lake, I made it onto my bike in record time. I left the transition area feeling strong and hopeful. It might have been pouring rain but I was going to have a good race. And I did. Until about 8 miles into the bike course.
As I was coming down an incredibly steep hill in pretty much The Middle of Nowhere, PA, I came upon a biker who had just sustained a major, high speed fall down much of the hill. His bike was a wreck, he was covered in blood and dazed. The triathlete in me wanted to keep going but another part of me spoke louder.
You see, here’s the thing: I’m a registered nurse. And I happen to be a nurse who attracts major medical disasters, catastrophes and emergencies. I don’t cause them, I promise, but, more often than not, I just happen to be in the right place at the wrong time for some poor soul. And it’s not just me. Ask any nurse and they will willingly recount for you the multiple times their shopping, dining, or just existing at an intersection has led to them use their skills to help those around them. Once a nurse, always a nurse, right? It’s a blessing, mostly, but also a curse. And it has led my best friend to frequently refer to me as the “Angel of Death” because of the number of times I have started a conversation with, “So, I had to call an ambulance today….”.
Nurses have a very weird job. We go to work with the expectation that we will be spewed on, have our hands in places that no normal person would put them, and will be on our feet for lengths of time that would make Olympic runners tired. We hear language that would make sailors blush, we are told secrets that Oliver Stone would salivate over and we have seen things in places that would make prostitutes pass out. As if that weren’t enough, we do all of these things with bladders brimming over and having only ingested a large Dunkin at 7am. And, in spite of all of it, we go back the next day for more of the same.
When I graduated from nursing school in 1997, I hit the med/surg floor with fresh book knowledge and full of quotes from all of the nursing greats that my professors revered. I was going to change the world, one bedpan at a time. What nursing school doesn’t teach you is that often, the contents of that bedpan wind up down your pretty little scrubs and you walk into the hallway announcing a “Code Brown”. And, I don’t think Jean Watson adequately prepared me for the joys of having to give an enema to a confused patient. Just ask me about the time a colostomy bag exploded on me. On second thought? Don’t. Just don’t. And please, please don’t ask about the time I found a couple, uhm, making the sexy in the hospital bed. Like I said, nurses have a weird job.
Being a nurse means that complete strangers will feel comfortable enough with you to ask you personal medical questions or whip out surgical scars for your inspection. I’ve been to cocktail parties where people have asked me about genital warts. There’s nothing like sipping a martini and trying to make a discussion about Zithromax and herpes seem completely normal. Nurses often lament that they are under appreciated but, frankly, I think it shows a high level of appreciation when a woman from your mom’s group whips out her boob with mastitis for you to evaluate. That’s profound trust and a respect for my medical knowledge right there, people. But, I’m not going to lie: I still inwardly wince whenever someone I barely know says, “So, I have this rash….”.
As for “Angel of Death” moniker, it’s true: people have a habit of just deciding to have their medical emergencies in front of me. I’ve had a man next to me drop in the grocery store and found a woman lying unconscious in the road. I’ve had countless runners injure themselves in front of me and once even had one collapse just before the finish line. I’ve happened upon accidents, been at parties when kids are seriously hurt and probably hold the record for the number of ambulances called in my neighborhood. A word of advice: if we hang out, make sure your blood work is up to date and bring a list of your medications, okay?
For all it’s weirdness, I love nursing and being a nurse. I had a shirt back in college that said “Everyone passes through the hands of a nurse” and I wore it until it fell apart. I cherish the intersection my life has with a patient’s, no matter how insignificant, because I know that in some small way, I’ve left my mark and they’ve left theirs with me. I’ve been moved by patients, angered by them, amused by them and saddened by them. Each one has changed me a tiny bit as I’ve moved through my career and has made me the nurse I am today.
Meanwhile, back on the triathlon course…. Another biker and I stopped and while the other biker went off to get help, I spent the better part of 20 mins making sure the injured biker got the help he needed and that his wife knew what was going on. After he was safely on his way to the hospital, I got back on my bike and finished my triathlon (albeit, I took the hills reeeeaaally slowly from that point). I finished last. As in, “the race volunteers and my two friends were the only ones left at the finish line” last. I was so last that the race timer exclaimed, ” ’bout time you got here!”. But, for all that I lost by getting off my bike, I never considered doing anything else. It’s just what we nurses do and it’s a responsibility that we don’t take lightly. Even if we finish dead last.